Many students return from college looking for home-cooked meals. They look forward to being served their childhood favorites by mom or dad.
I am not one of these students.
When I get home, my family clears out of the kitchen, leaving me a full pantry and all the kitchen tools necessary to carry out my culinary projects.
These “projects” always involve foreign cuisines and new-to-me techniques. Usually I will experiment with a new form of food preservation or value-added product. Baking is always a must. But this year I had a new challenge imposed upon me – food allergies. I recently became lactose intolerant (limited milk products), and my mother has become gluten-free. Itching to flex my culinary mussels, I dove headfirst into the challenge.
Not three days after returning from France, I started prep work for my first big challenge – a hog roast with a healthy twist. I eliminated mayonnaise and butter from traditional sides like potato salad and coleslaw and bought most of the products locally and organically. After the hog roast I was looking to beat the heat and take a break from meat, so I whipped up a cold, cream-free pea soup and gluten-free breadsticks. After loading up on summer berries and produce from my favorite farmers’ market, we dined on gluten-free buckwheat crepes with vanilla-lemon filling, made from soy yogurt. A Sunday morning breakfast of kale and tomato omelets was accompanied by gluten-free popovers.
There were failures as well – most notably soy-based vanilla custard with just a tad too much cornstarch, that resembled vanilla jell-o. And I don’t think my mom will ever stop teasing me about the fire I started when heating safflower oil in a skillet. It really wasn’t that big a deal…
In order to spare you any teasing, deserved or not, as you experiment with milk and wheat restrictions in the kitchen, here are some helpful hints:
1. Use a pre-mixed gluten free flour mix (I use Bob’s Red Mill). These mixes are tested by the company and really easy to use. When just starting out, buying a single mix of flours is a lot easier (and cheaper!) than buying large quantities of different flours.
2. Stay soft. Cakes, muffins, and quick breads – all things with a soft, moist crumb – are easier to transfor into gluten free. Adding things like applesauce, pureed fruit, yogurt, or honey will not only keep your items tender, but add flavor and sweetness without the use of refined sugar !
3. When translating recipes using regular flour, add 1/4 cup MORE gluten-free flour mix than the recipe calls for. If a recipe calls for 1 cup regular flour, use 1-1/4 C. gluten-free flour mix. Then add the correct amount of xanthan gum, which gives the baked good structure, according to the directions on your gluten-free mix.
4. Remove your baked goods from their pans as soon as possible. They get soggy if they sit in the pan.
5. When baking dairy free, oil and applesauce can be substituted for butter. Coconut milk has little-to-no coconut flavor once baked, so it is a perfect substitute for dairy milk. Almond milk is also a good substitute when baking something in which an almond flavor is desirable. Soy or dairy-free yogurt can replace regular yogurt, or eliminate the yogurt all together, adding applesauce to replace the moisture and a squeeze of lemon to replace the acid.
By following these tips, I enjoyed success after crumb of success. As I leave home once more, my family’s freezers and fridges are stocked with delectable treats, like these gluten-free banana lemon muffins. I promise, no one will guess these are food-allergy friendly.
Alexis ZK is an undergraduate at New York University studying French and Food Studies. After spending a summer working on farms all over the US, she spent a year studying, eating, and working in France. Now, she has returned to the farms, this time focusing on wine and value-added products. Follow her adventures here.
Lemon Olive Oil Banana Bread
Makes 12-24 muffins, or two small loaves.
These muffins can be gluten free, with the use of a gluten free flour mix, like Bob’s Red Mill, and xanthan gum, or they can be made with a combination of white and whole-wheat flour. I made them as mini and regular size muffins, and froze most of them in small bags for future breakfasts. The chocolate chips are not necessary, but add a nice hint of sweetness. Try not to break up all the brown sugar clumps – they turn to pockets of caramel in the oven and are a delight to bite into.
2 cups gluten free flour mix (I used Bob’s Red Mill)
1 1/2 teaspoons xanthan gum
3/4 cup brown sugar, packed (don’t break up all the clumps!)
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup chocolate chips (I used mini chips)
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 1/2 cups mashed ripe bananas (about three)
1/4 cup goat milk yogurt or dairy-free yogurt
1 tablespoon lemon zest
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (or one-half vanilla bean, scraped)
Combine the dry ingredients (flour mix, xanthan gum, brown sugar, salt, and chocolate chips). Whisk together, but leave a few clumps of brown sugar.
In a separate bowl, mash the bananas. Mix together with the liquid ingredients (olive oil, eggs, yogurt, lemon zest, and vanilla extract).
Add the moist ingredients to the dry ingredients, and mix with a wooden spoon until just combined. Bake at 350°F in greased or lined muffin tins or in a loaf pan. The muffins will take about 25 minutes, the loaf 50 minutes. To check for doneness, insert a toothpick into the center of the loaf. If it comes out clean, it’s done!
Let cool five minutes in pan, then remove from pan and let cool completely on a wire rack. Store in airtight bags in the fridge for up to one week, or in airtight bags in the freezer for up to two months. Let come to room temperature before serving.